November 11th, 2009
It's a chilly November morning in Washington D.C. and people are milling about in the park, their breath forming small white clouds in the cold air. Murdock slowly walks along the gleaming black wall, his hands tucked deeply into his pockets. Short cropped silver streaked hair peeks out from underneath a dark blue cap and his customary sneakers are visible under his dark slacks. Occasionally, his eye is drawn to a name and his mind readily provides him with a face to go with it. The pilot sighs deeply and gazes along the length of the wall. 'There's jus' so many of 'em…' He's momentarily struck by the immensity of the war. He knew the numbers, but the sheer scale of the monument was humbling.
He'd seen his fair share of men come and go. Some walking, some crawling and some in body bags.
Murdock gazes at his reflection on the wall in between the white stained lettering. His face no longer looks youthful and his hair is turning grey. He is growing old while these names, these men, are forever caught in their youth. Heroes…
So many more heroes never made it to this wall. They survived hell, only to find more of it back home. Murdock was no stranger to anguish and in the VA, he'd also seen his fair share of men who gave up on life. Those that just couldn't deal with any of it, not anymore… The ones that left too much of themselves behind in Vietnam. He reaches the panels where some of his old friends can be found. Petey, Kowalski, Howard… He traces their names with his fingertips, remembering their faces. Murdock takes the time to commemorate them.
Hannibal's name never made it to this wall... Nor did Ray's… They died back home. He feels his throat close up in grief. The death of both men still cut deep. After taking a moment to get his emotions back under control he walks further along the wall until one name in particular catches his eye.
He's instantly transported back through time, to his first combat flight in Vietnam. He'd been flying missions for the company since '67 and Stephen O'Cannell had been impressed by his skills. The colonel had pulled so many strings, the young lieutenant was surprised that he hadn't turned into a puppet. Sadly, he had yet to learn that strings to the CIA couldn't be cut that easily. Steve just laughed at the crazy that was Murdock and assigned him a bird. The pilot thought he'd seen war, but nothing could have prepared him for what he'd faced then. With bullets flying at him from all directions he just froze. He could still hear the voices in the back screaming at him to take the freaking bird up.
It took precious seconds for him snap out of his daze and wrestle the chopper up, howling all the way. The bird had been completely shot up and he had to fight to keep her on course. Sweat ran down his back and his fingers were wrapped so tightly around the cyclic, they turned as white as his copilot's face. After setting down, he got smacked upside the head by Steve and had the name Howlin' Mad Murdock bestowed upon him. The base commander had understandably been wholly unamused by all of this. That would have been the end of his career with the Thunderbirds, and he would've been stuck doing milk runs for the rest of his tour. The brass however, had a very different opinion. He got a medal for it and, army recruiters happily used him as a poster boy. An all-American boy, turned hero.
Murdock shivers. It put the company's crosshairs firmly back on him. He'd been so young back then. Too young to know what he really got himself into. Drawn in by agent Cheney, he'd enlisted thinking he had nothing left to lose but his life. He might as well spend it fighting for his country. Oh, how naive he had been. Little did he know that his life wasn't the only thing that he could lose. The captain quickly lost his innocence and eventually even his mind in that godforsaken war.
He touches the name, tracing the letters with his fingers. He called his first-born son Stephen. After the colonel who taught him to deal with all of it, before he met Howard and eventually Hannibal with his rag tag A-team. Murdock huffs, his breath condensing in the cold. He'd never though he'd become a veteran. He hadn't counted on surviving, let alone having to live the rest of his life with everything he saw and did back then.
Murdock sighs and rubs his forehead warily. From the moment, he saw his sons mop of curly brown hair bob around behind the rose bushes with a stubby twig clenched between his teeth, leading a small platoon of 6 and 7-year-olds through a standard half pincer movement, he'd known the boy would end up a soldier. Listening attentively to his "grandpa", he practically soaked up all the stories Hannibal told him, his brown eyes wide and glittering in rapture. So unlike his younger brother George, who preferred to take to the sky instead of playing soldier. Murdock smiles wistfully at the fond memories. No two boys could be more different than his sons were. He chuckles softly to himself, vividly remembering the pain of stepping on stray toy soldiers after a visit from the colonel. His smile fades as quickly as it had come and closes his eyes in sorrow. Snatching the cap off his head, he runs his hand through his short hair, valiantly ignoring his burning eyes. Murdock swallows thickly before regaining control over his emotions. Oh, how he wishes Hannibal were still around. He'd probably know how to handle this, but sadly he passed away when Stephen was only eight.
Stephen graduated from Point West and joined the Special Forces as a Lieutenant. The day his son finally got deployed to Iraq, they hugged him and said their farewells. Not much was being said between father and son, but not all communication requires words. When the lumbering military transport took off he couldn't tear his eyes away from it until it disappeared below the horizon. He absently felt his wife cling to his arm, crying onto his shoulder. Did his grandma feel the same? This strange mix of paralyzing heartbreak and immense pride at his boy? He opens his eyes and jams the cap back on. He wearily drops down onto one of the benches strewn about the place. His sons are all grown up now.
'They don't need protectin' no more, do they?' But what does that really mean to a parent? Murdock rubs his chest, feeling his heart constrict.
Stephen is due to return home in about a weeks' time. His brown eyes take on a faraway look, wondering how the dealings of war have affected his oldest son. Murdock tiredly leans his elbows on his knees, tightly clasping a hand over his mouth. Will he be okay? Or will he turn out to be like his father…? Slightly mended but still ultimately broken?
He's startled out of his dark thoughts by the unexpected voice. Murdock whirls around in his seat. There, in all his dusty desert camo glory is his son.
"Stephen…" he murmurs. The old pilot surges to his feet, wincing when he feels his knees grind due to the sudden movement. Some injuries just never really heal. He quickly moves around the bench to envelop his boy in a bear hug, ignoring all the gear that pokes him in the stomach. Stephen tentatively returns the hug before burying his face in his father's shoulder and holding him like his life depends on it. If Murdock could hold him any tighter he would. Underneath the tough soldier's façade, he feels his son's body tremble. "Stephen… God..." His voice breaks and Stephen lets out a breathy half laugh, half sob. Murdock releases him and holds him at arms-length, scanning his face. He holds his son's dark brown gaze, not really knowing what he's looking for, but sure he recognizes it if he sees it. After what feels like ages, but are only seconds, Stephen smiles a watery smile. Murdock sucks in a shaky breath. "Yer back." This time it's him that buries his head in his son's shoulder, holding on for dear life.
Murdock wipes at his suspiciously wet eyes and puts an arm around his son's shoulders. Together they move to sit on the bench, Murdock just vacated. Both Murdock's take the time to regain their composure.
"Ah…" Murdock smiles wistfully. He should have known his friend had something to do with this. Face still had some influence in the army and he wasn't afraid to use it if necessary. With compliments from Stockwell of course. The lieutenant had been offered a job as a military adviser after their pardon. And through the years he had become invaluable to the government. A nice position for a former conman.
"How did ya know I was here?" Murdock asks his son. Stephen looks at him with his brown eyes twinkling. Aside from his amazingly good looks he had also inherited his father's love for comics.
"My spider sense was tingling."
Murdock guffaws before remembering where he was. Smoothing his face back into a semblance of control swats his son upside the head for making him laugh like that.
"No, but seriously…" Stephen gazes at the gleaming black monument before them. "I called Mom... And she told on you."
"Ah…" Murdock's smile grows wider. 'Gotta love a woman like that.' He relaxes and together they sit in companionable silence.
Stephen spots a familiar blond head in the crowd heading towards them.
"My ride's here."
Murdock follows his son's gaze to the man heading in their direction.
"Aaah…" With a knowing smirk, he winks at his son.
"Have fun son. Don't do anythin' I wouldn't do."
"Dad!" Stephen exclaims while trying to cover up his reddening ears. Murdock wiggles his eyebrows suggestively, and just like that, everything returned to normal. Or at least as normal as any Murdock could get. Desperate to escape his father's evil clutches, Stephen picks up his duffel bag and quickly heads towards the blond. "Uncle Face!"
The older man extends a hand to him and pulls him into a one-armed hug.
"You told him yet?" Face asks him, his blue eyes glittering.
Stephen sheepishly rubs the back of his neck.
"I didn't want to spring it on him like that." The older lieutenant nods pensively. Stephen tries to pull himself out of the hug, but Face won't let him. Stephen is once again reminded of the conversation he had with his uncle right before leaving for Iraq. Despite his usual behavior towards women, Face is fiercely protective of his only daughter. Stephen swallows audibly. He's suddenly released with a hearty slap on the back that feels welcoming but also very much like a warning. The lieutenant smirks and winks at the younger Murdock and heads towards his oldest friend.
Having escaped two seasoned veterans, he looks for the one person he's been dying to see. Her blonde hair is completely covered with a thick wool knit hat and her face is beaming with happiness, her cheeks rosy from the cold.
"Claire…" He murmurs. With a few quick steps, he reaches the young woman and gathers her in his arms. The diamond engagement ring on her finger sparkles in the afternoon light. He'd practically jumped from the transport plane the moment it stopped rolling, ignoring the whistles and catcalls following in his wake. Stephen ran down the runway, afraid he'd lose his courage if he would pause even to breathe. The second he'd reached her, he dropped to one knee and proposed to her, much to the amusement of the other men. It was almost like something from a movie… 'She said yes...' His heart swells. Stephen presses a kiss to her lips, making Claire giggle which makes him want to kiss her even more. They get lost in the moment for a while before they have to come up for air.
"Since my dad, is keeping your dad busy…" Claire looks decidedly devious "I say we get us a room and enjoy each other's company for a while." Stephen's heart stutters and all rational thought flees from his mind. He drops his duffel bag and grabs Claire by the waist, nuzzling her neck with a wolfish grin.
"That sounds like a great plan."
A silver glow momentarily surrounds the couple like a caress, and nobody seems to notice the faint smell of cigar smoke.
"I love it when a plan comes together…"
~ The ones who leaves us will forever live on through the ones that stay behind.